Upgrading Your PC? Avoid This Huge RAM Upgrade Issue

Upgrading Your PC? Avoid This Huge RAM Upgrade Issue

The computing world is flush with complexities and technical hangups that I couldn’t even begin to outline to you in a single article, but what I come to you with today is a warning regarding DDR5, the latest PC RAM standard, and XMP/EXPO; tools that allow RAM to operate at maximum rated speeds. Unfortunately, it’s because I was stung last week over this issue, and it may sting you if you’re looking to build or upgrade a PC with the new RAM standard on your motherboard (which you likely are).

This issue is best described if I run you through my steps. I recently upgraded my PC to a DDR5-supporting motherboard, having bought two sticks of 16GB of 6,000Mhz RAM and received the AMD Ryzen 7 8700G processor and RX 7800XT graphics card for review. Because of the new chipset used by the 8700G, the new motherboard was necessary, and, by extension, new RAM.

Over the past 10 years, my approach to PC building has involved buying two sticks of RAM, and then upgrading to four sticks if I feel the need to. With my original build, this included two sticks of 4GB RAM, if you can believe it, followed by two sticks of 8GB (16GB) operating at 2,800mhz, then four sticks of 8GB (32GB) operating at 3,200mhz. I know I’m not the only person who had this approach to RAM, but for me, it stemmed from a cost-cutting perspective; if I needed more RAM, I would simply add more later on.

And just so we’re clear, the ‘GB’ (gigabytes) applies to the capacity of the RAM (in the simplest description possible, the more ‘GB’ you have, the more processes you can have running without noticing slowness), while the ‘Mhz’ (Megahertz) applies to the speed of the RAM (how fast the processes can be completed). Typically, CPU-makers will have maximum rated RAM speeds lower than what the RAM is actually capable of, and to achieve those higher speeds (which RAM is advertised by), RAM relies on BIOS-level protocols called Extreme Memory Profile (XMP, for Intel) or Extended Profiles for Overclocking (EXPO, for AMD). For gaming and high-demand applications where you need processes pushed through quickly, the Mhz value matters a lot, but if you need to have more things running at any given time, more ‘GB’ matters.

Oh, and just as an aside – you should absolutely check that you have EXPO or XMP enabled in your BIOS. It makes a world of difference in terms of frames in games.

However, this is where the problems begin today. My 16GB of DDR5 RAM, operating at 6,000mhz, is extremely fast, however with all the applications that I have open for my job and my hobbies, including dozens of browser tabs, apps, and downloads, I was often finding hangups that I wasn’t noticing prior with my 32GB 3,200Mhz setup. Assuming no difference from my past experience, I just went ahead and ordered more RAM.

(Another side note – if you’re going to upgrade your RAM, you must only use identically specced sticks of RAM from the same manufacturer in all of your slots. Otherwise, you’ll encounter a world of issues).

I went ahead and ordered the very same RAM from PLE Computers. When my RAM arrived, the problem quickly became obvious. XMP and EXPO is not currently supported on four sticks of DDR5 RAM. This means that, no matter the capacity or Mhz speed, you will not be able to achieve the maximum clock speed on offer from the RAM manufacturers.

Without knowing this until it was too late, my computer was failing to boot. It wasn’t even loading the BIOS unless I disabled XMP/EXPO. The RAM was completely healthy, it was the same exact DDR5 kit, but with XMP enabled, no dice.

Now, I’m not going to pretend like what we’re talking about in this article is some completely new issue – this video from Tech Notice, along with videos from Linus Tech Tips and Hardware Unboxed discuss it at length. It’s also been discussed on plenty of forums, such as Overclock and obviously Reddit – however, I missed it. How the heck did I miss it?

In fairness, some configurations, like the one shown in the video above, appear to be, at the very least, booting with XMP enabled and operating at up to 5,200Mhz, but it’s not as stable as it should be – it’s crashing out of benchmark apps, and a BSOD was shown when running on integrated graphics. You’ll need to read your motherboard’s specifications to see what configurations of RAM it supports, which I highly, highly recommend, now that I’ve been stung by this issue.

But this is still something that you should absolutely be across if you’re looking to buy four sticks of RAM, or if you have the same mindset as me and want to upgrade as you go. That’s out the window now with EXPO, XMP and DDR5, if speed matters to you.

The silver lining is that you can still obviously get the best of both worlds – just not without four sticks, but two sticks instead. You can order two sticks of 32GB these days and get a blisteringly powerful 64GB RAM setup with a high Mhz frequency, but for most people, two sticks of 16GB will probably the best bet. I’ve found 32GB to be my sweet spot among games and work use, but 16GB is still fairly fine for gaming (though, as there was a time when 8GB was seen as ‘fine’ for gaming, there may one day come a time where 32GB is seen as the norm for games).

Anyway. The good folks at PLE Computers were able to refund me for my purchase of extra RAM (minus a restock fee), but I’ll likely be upgrading to 32GB RAM with two sticks (at 6,000Mhz) sometime soon.

The bottom line is if you’re looking to upgrade soon, focus on a two-RAM stick configuration. Don’t get stung like me.

Image: iStock

The Cheapest NBN 50 Plans

It’s the most popular NBN speed in Australia for a reason. Here are the cheapest plans available.

At Gizmodo, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.